Viva Las Vegas – My trip to the Consumer Electronics Show

Last Friday, on what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, I was in Las Vegas, a town that is indelibly associated with him, to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

More accurately, I was there to speak on a panel at the MommyTech at CES conference, although I did walk around the show a little bit. I also participated in a “View”-like live-streamed panel about Facebook in Kodak’s booth, along with Real Housewife of New York Jill Zarin, Suburban Outlaw Pam Sherman, entrepreneur Suzanne Kantra and Kodak VP Leslie Dance. It was pretty funny — you can watch the repeat here.  I’ll have more about some of  the products I saw over on my digital parenting post at BlogHer on Wednesday.

Since this is my travel blog, this post is about the trip. Even though I am not particularly fond of Las Vegas, I actually had some pretty nice experiences on this trip.

First, I flew Southwest Airlines, and I highly recommend spending the extra $10 each way to get Early Bird Check-in. This option automatically puts you in a queue to get your boarding spot 36 hours before the flight. No more having to log-in exactly 24 hours before the flight and hope to get a decent spot in line. On both flights, I had a great A spot, just after the Business Select passengers.

Of course, it is ironic that Southwest brags about your bags flying free and charges for better seat choice, but I don’t care. It’s worth it to me, to be able to benefit from Southwest’s often lower fares and NOT have to remember to check-in at the 24-hour mark, which is sometimes impossible when traveling on business.

Speaking of my bag, on the way home, it went (free) to Boise Idaho instead of Manchester New Hampshire. It did eventually turn up, but there were some hiccups in Southwest’s lost bag procedure.

Making the report at Manchester at 11pm on Saturday night was no problem; the clerk told me the bag was in Boise and would probably make it back to NH sometime late in the day Sunday and be delivered Monday at the latest. Great. No problem. Home I went.

My concerns started Sunday afternoon when Southwest called to give me an update. A very unsatisfactory update that they were looking for my bag and hoped to have better information soon. Hullo? Saturday midnight, it was in Boise, Sunday mid-afternoon, they don’t know where it is? Not confidence inducing. We called customer service back for a better explanation. Turns out they give this very non-committal response until the bag actually turns up at the destination airport. Hhmm. If you aren’t going to give a real status report, methinks you’d be better off saying nothing.

I never heard from Southwest again on the bag, but when Dave went out to get the paper this morning, it was sitting in the driveway. The good news, of course, is that I got the bag back. The not so good news is that Southwest never called with a final update. Now, I understand that it may have arrived in Manchester very late last night, clearly it was delivered pretty early, and when I made the report, I did say that someone would be home Monday morning.  But, still, I think a call was in order. What if it had been raining or snowing?

Moving on, and back to the Las Vegas trip, I had used Marriott points to stay at the Courtyard directly across from the Convention Center. Getting around Las Vegas during a big conference can be a pain, especially at peak travel times. The monorail improves things somewhat from the bad old days (when the Sands was a hotel, not just a convention center), but being within walking distance is priceless.

When I got to the hotel Thursday night, they told me that they were oversold, but had arranged for me to stay at the Marriott Residence  next door that night, were paying for the room, and had bounced back my points for the one night to my Rewards account. Sure, it was a bit of a pain to have to switch hotels on Friday, but they are right next door to each other. Kudos to the staffs at both hotels for making things relatively painless. My only really negative comment about the hotel was that my breakfast omelet on Saturday had way too much cheese. And I love cheese.

There’s a fairly new Marriott Suites hotel right around the corner from the Courtyard and Residence hotels. I’m wracking my brain trying to remember what used to be there. I thought it might be the old Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood Hotel, but I checked online, and it is the Greek Isles that is there now. Anyway, the Marriott’s casual restaurant Cafe 325 is a nice place to grab a quick bite to eat. My burger was great, and the bartender let me take my second glass of wine “to go” even though I wasn’t staying at that Marriott. Viva Las Vegas!

I also recommend French bistro Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris casino. The food and service are great, and the prices are reasonable… for Las Vegas. On this trip, I had a yummy steak au poivre with frites ($24.00), which was made even better by the great company – Beth Blecherman (@techmama), Ciaran Blumenfeld (@momfluential) and Amy Oztan (@selfishmom).

Finally, getting to and from the airport. On past trips, I’ve always taken a cab, and bemoaned the long cab lines at the airport. I was on a pretty tight budget this trip, so decided to check out the local transportation offered on the Southwest website. Gray Line Shuttles was the option, with a round-trip price of $12.00.

The price was right, so I figured I could live with a little inconvenience in exchange for the savings. Except it wasn’t inconvenient in the least. Inbound, the wait for the shuttle was shorter than any cab line wait I have ever had in Las Vegas, and leaving Vegas on Saturday, my hotel was the last stop before the airport. In other words, exactly the same elapsed time as a cab. It might be a bit more hectic at other times of the day — I was arriving and leaving at non-peak travel times — but I was generally impressed.

All in all, probably the best trip I’ve ever had to Las Vegas.

Life Changing Experiences

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Hotel New York New York

The past two and one half weeks have brought us some of the best and most memorable experiences of our lives.  However, we had reached the point that Dennis and I were having a hard time motivating the kids to be excited about another red rock or funky tree or deer on the side of the road.  Las Vegas was exactly the right place at the right time to shake things up again!

Before we left for our trip, a friend of mine joked that I should take a picture of the boys before they go into Vegas because they won’t be the same after they leave!  There was more truth to that statement than he realized, a truth that lied beyond the billboards of scantily clad woman and postcard sized advertisements for the nearest gentlemen’s club.  The truth they experienced lied more in the realization that there is an expansive world out there filled with promise and hope, despair and loneliness.   In Vegas, you see the highs of the promise of glory and wealth and the lows of poverty and homelessness.  Las Vegas is without a doubt a life changing experience.

Much to my surprise, that Monday in Sin City brought out the families.  Kids under the age of 15 with their extended families made up the bulk of the foot traffic on the strip.  We were no exception.   The casinos sang their songs of winning jackpot but many of the seats remained empty in lieu of roller coasters, ice cream and buffets, lots and lots of buffets.  Strictly by accident, we discovered a delicious money saving tip that I would like to pass along.  In trying to decide which buffet to enjoy, we noticed the Bellagio offered the best seafood and sushi selection which was exactly what Cam and I had hoped to find.  Lunch, ended at 4:00PM was $10/head cheaper than dinner.   We got there about 3:45 and found no lines, no waiting.  We paid the lower price and within 15 minutes, all the glorious higher-end items like lobster ravioli and sashimi tuna were there for the taking!  If you can time it right, you can eat like kings but at the price of a commoner.

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Old Vegas Nostalgia

After some R&R at the hotel pool, we got dressed and headed out for the bright lights of the city after dark.  Dennis and I wanted the kids to see Old Vegas.  One of our trip “guidelines” was to try to experience things unique to the area we were visiting.  The Fremont Street Experience fits that to a tee.   You can take a taxi there for about $25 each way from the strip or feel free to hop on The Deuce, public transportation for $3 per person per way or $7 for a 24 hour pass.  The kids had a field day with the name, dropping every potty joke they could think of to kill the time waiting.  (For the slower crowd, deuce = 2…number 2…get it?)  Most folks were heading across town with us.  The buses were filled and the stops were many, but it gave us a chance to see the strip from a unique vantage point.  They ran every 7 minutes, so if you can’t get a seat, hold tight and jump on the next one.  After an hour plus ride, we arrived at Fremont Street. 

The Fremont Street Experience aims to capture the nostalgia of Old Vegas with a modern twist.  The canopy of lights overhead that runs the length of the street was dark.  Most nights there is a theme or tribute created for the audiences’ viewing pleasure.  Our night was a tribute to the rock band Queen.  We timed it perfect.   Much to our delight, within the past year the boys have discovered classic rock.  AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Queen top their list of favorites so we knew when the show started, it was going to knock their socks off.  We walked around; checking out the old neon signs and listening to an Elvis impersonator rock the house.  At the end of his set, he told the folks dancing in the street that he’d be back shortly.  Dennis and I looked at each other knowing the time had come.

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The hotel lights went dark, the street lights dimmed and this huge lightning bolt complete with thunder sound effects raced from one end of the street to the other, shockingly loud.  The boys eyes popped open and their jaws dropped to the floor.  Perfect!  Queen’s “We Will Rock You” filled the streets and the canopy of lights flooded the boulevard with everything from the British flag, to Freddy in concert to the lyrics pounding overhead.   It ended too quickly; I could have watched the kids watch the lights for hours.   When it was finished, Cam picked his jaw off the ground and said slowly with purpose “That…was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

The kids nabbed front row seats on the top deck of the bus ride back to the hotel.  Honestly, the best view of Sin City I’ve ever seen.  Although we missed the dancing fountains at Belliagio, we did see the pirate ships, the volcano, the circus tent and the New York skyline before we called it a night.   I can’t exactly put my finger on it but the kids did change after that.  The last remaining childhood habits and comforts were abandoned and new, more adult attitudes are starting to rear their heads.  My boys are growing up.

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Hoover Dam new bridge

We headed out the next morning for Sedona Arizona.  As we were leaving the city limits, Dennis commented on how he had never seen the Hoover Dam, wondering if it would be that far out of our way to drive by to see it.  We were resigning ourselves to the fact we’d have to catch it on the next trip when we noticed signs for Lake Mead.  Our faithful companion Betty plotted our route to cross over the Hoover Dam on the way to Arizona.  Since 9/11, security has been very tight at the Dam and we were required to pull over and be subjected to a minor search.  We gladly obliged and within 10 minutes we were driving across this miraculous man-made tourist attraction.  The new bridge across the dam was in process.  Tourists lined the streets taking photos from every angle.  I did my best from the window because we were informed that any vehicle over 15’ in length is not allowed to stop until they have passed over the entire structure.   I’m so glad we got the opportunity to see it, again nothing else like it in the world.  See, our luck in Vegas wasn’t all bad.

To see our entire Vegas or Hoover Dam photo albums, visit Snapfish.